Tag Archives: homemade cleansers

4 Toxic Household Cleaning Supplies and Their Alternatives

Many of the classic household cleaning supplies that were used by our parents and their parents before them are fairly toxic. These days we’re more aware of the hazards, but not always sure of how to avoid them. These are some of the problem cleaning supplies and how you can replace them. It’s often surprisingly simple.

1. Bleach

Bleach is certainly powerful as a cleaner, and there are times when you have little other choice for getting rid of mildew. But for routine cleaning it’s really more power than you need.

Bleach is an irritant. If you’ve used it, you know this already. The fumes are uncomfortable to breathe. They aren’t good for you or for your children. On top of that, the labels even warn you about too much contact with bleach.

Replace with: Lemon juice. For many purposes, lemon juice does a very good job. Natural sunlight is also great at bleaching out certain stains. They aren’t as strong, but for most purposes they’re quite good enough.

2. Ammonia

Ammonia is often used in glass cleaners as well as other surface cleaners. Just as with bleach, the fumes are rather unpleasant, and if you read the label you can see that it’s hazardous.

Replace with: Vinegar. It’s not the most appealing of smells, but the scent dissipates as it dries, and it does a fair job of taking other scents with it. Vinegar works great on glass and other hard surfaces, and can be combined with baking soda for many cleaning chores.

3. Air Fresheners

You may love the way air fresheners smell, but their ingredient list may be enough to drive you out of the house. They may contain chemicals such as 1,4 dichlorobenzene, formaldehyde, naphthalene and other VOCs that can cause respiratory effects. These can be a problem if anyone in the house has asthma or other breathing issues.

Beyond that, they don’t usually actually freshen air. They often deaden your ability to smell or simply cover up one smell with another.

Replace with: Open windows are ideal, weather permitting. If not, boil some favorite herbs or some apple peels on the stove, or spray vinegar in the air. Any of these will help with household odors.

4. Toilet Bowl Cleaners

Toilet bowls can get pretty awful looking, and that squeeze bottle is an awfully easy way to clean them, but it’s not the best for the environment. The chemicals in toilet bowl cleaners are very strong, not the kind of thing you want around your family, especially small children.

Replace with: Baking soda plus scrubbing for basic stains, borax plus vinegar, time and scrubbing for worse stains. Or buy a reputable eco friendly brand of toilet bowl cleaner. Seventh Generation makes a toilet bowl cleaner, for example.

Since many products don’t list ingredients, your best bet is to avoid cleaning products that say “Caution.” “Danger” or “Warning” on them. These will have some sort of hazardous chemical you should try to keep out of your house as much as possible.

Products with specific environmental benefits listed are better than ones claiming to be green with no claimed benefits at all. If it says biodegradable, does it say how soon? Are there no phosphates in it? If there’s a clear statement of the benefit, there’s more likely to be something to it. “Natural” and “eco-friendly” don’t mean a thing on their own.

The Wonderful World of Vinegar

By now you probably know that vinegar is pretty useful for cleaning around the house. The smell isn’t always the best, or so my husband says, but it fades away quickly as the vinegar dries, so I really don’t consider it to be a problem.

Here are some of the many ways you can use vinegar around the house. Please feel free to share any further ideas you have.

1. Clean the microwave

Water can do this pretty well too, but it lacks the deodorizing capabilities of vinegar. Just heat a cloth that you have dampened with vinegar for 15 seconds or so. Once it’s cool enough to touch again, wipe the inside of the microwave clean with the cloth. The moisture should have helped to loosen some of the splatters.

2. Clean and unplug a showerhead.

Especially if you have hard water, your showerhead may get somewhat gunked up at times. Vinegar can do a slow but good job of cleaning it up.

Fill a plastic bag with vinegar. Put it over the showerhead and attach with a twist tie. Allow to soak for at least 15 minutes.

The vinegar may still be used after for other cleaning projects. Might be a good time to finish off cleaning the bathroom while you have it there!

3. Kill weeds

This can be a bit slow, as it kills the leaves but doesn’t touch roots. Spray it on the leaves and repeat as necessary. Eventually the plant will stop regrowing if it can’t get energy from its leaves.

4. Make soil more acid

On a gentler note, vinegar is good for adding a bit of acid to garden soil for plants that love acid soil.

5. Clean up pet urine

After cleaning up the mess by soaking up the liquid and then cleaning with water, pour vinegar on the area, blot out the excess and allow to dry.

6. Hair rinse

Rinse your hair with vinegar after shampooing. It removes the last of the shampoo nicely. Some say it helps with dandruff also.

7. In the laundry

Vinegar also helps to get the soap out from the laundry. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.

8. Afraid colors might run?

Soak brightly colored clothing in a mix of vinegar and warm water before washing. You’ll soon see if dye bleeding might have been a problem. I don’t know if this works with all dye types, but it’s been amazing what comes out of some red clothes.

9. Tenderize meat

There’s a reason why vinegar is so often used in marinades. The acid in it help to make the meat more tender.

10. Clear a drain

This one takes baking soda too, but it’s wonderful! Pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain, follow with a half cup of vinegar. Allow to work for 5-10 minutes, then pour boiling water down the drain. Repeat if necessary, but I’ve never had it be needed.

11. Deodorize the air

Spray vinegar in the air to control odors, or set a small pot of vinegar and water to boil. The vinegar smell will fade away.

12. Clean windows

Use vinegar as you would any other glass cleaner. Wiping with newspaper is highly effective too.

13. Use in the carpet cleaner

Vinegar can be used mixed with water at about 1 cup of vinegar to a gallon of water. Not terribly strong, but nice for a general cleaning.

14. Remove water rings from wood furniture

A mix of olive oil and vinegar can be rubbed on wood furniture to get rid of the white rings caused by leaving a wet glass on the wood.

15. Clean the garbage disposal

Make a few vinegar ice cubes. Put down the garbage disposal and run it while running cold water down the disposal as well.

16. Clean the dishwasher

Pour a cup of vinegar into the empty dishwasher, and run it.

17. Clean the coffeemaker

Your owner’s manual may even tell you about this. Pour a cup of vinegar into the reservoir and run the coffeemaker. Run it twice more with just water in the reservoir to rinse.

18. Soothe a sunburn

Apply vinegar to the sunburned areas with a cloth.

19. General cleaning

Use vinegar to clean hard surfaces in the bathroom and kitchen. It works well on tile and many other hard surfaces. You can dilute it with water for mopping as well.

20. Toilet bowl cleaner

That includes the toilet bowl. Pour 1 cup into the toilet and allow to sit for at least 5 minutes before flushing. This won’t get the areas out of the water, of course.

Easy Floor Cleaner

Cleaning floors is not one of my favorite things. Somehow my kids always manage to make it just a little pointless, generally by getting particularly dirty in the back yard later that day or the next, and tracking in tons of dirt, chalk and/or mud. They’re talented that way. And I love it.

They’re some of the big reason why I love making my own floor cleaner rather than buying it. No nasty chemicals, cheap, and I can even make my kids use it if they mess things up too quickly.

Here’s my basic formula for tile. Just as easy as mixing something bought at the store.

Basic Vinegar Floor Cleaner

Add about a half cup of white vinegar per gallon of water. My husband hates the smell of vinegar, so I add a bit of lavender essential oil to cut the vinegar scent until it dries. Mop as usual.

This mix is generally safe for tile and wood floors; just make sure that you don’t get the wood excessively wet. Your mop should be just damp. Some people like to add some vegetable oil to give wood floors a bit more of a shine.

Lemony Fresh Cleaning

I do a lot of my cleaning with baking soda and vinegar, but sometimes another choice is better. That would be cleaning with lemon juice.

You can’t beat the smell for one thing. An area cleaned with lemon juice smells good!

A classic use is as furniture polish. There’s a reason why so many store bought furniture polishes are lemon scented. You can put two parts of olive oil to one part lemon juice to make your own hardwood furniture polish.

Plain lemon juice is also good for cleaning wooden cutting boards.

Mixed with baking soda into a paste, it can polish chrome or copper. Salt can work in place of the baking soda, as it provides grit for scrubbing. I like baking soda in most cases, although it is less gritty.

Lemon juice is also good for your laundry, as it can help with natural bleaching. Hanging clothes out to dry in the sun can help with stains too, but sometimes you want that boost from lemon juice. Just add a half cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle, then dry in the sunlight. A small amount of lemon juice also just makes clothes smell good when they dry, but honestly I’ve never found the need to worry about how my clothes smell after washing.

You can also soak clothes in a mix of vinegar and lemon juice to get a stain out. Just soak for a half hour before washing.

Lemon juice is a pretty flexible cleaner, and delightful for those times you don’t want the smell of vinegar when you clean. Sometimes scent matters.